Yahya Abdul-Mateen II recently sat down with Shadow and Act’s Trey Mangum about what it was like to portray Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale in The Trial of the Chicago 7.
In the film as in life, Seale was arrested and charged with conspiracy and inciting a riot during the 1968 Democratic National Convention held in Chicago. He was one of seven other people charged. Even though he was sentenced, he was later severed from the case, which led to the renaming of the convicted from the Chicago 8 to the Chicago 7.
“I had a responsibility to a living person with a real experience,” said Abdul-Mateen. “I knew of Bobby Seale because I grew up in Oakland. He’s a strong figure in Oakland. I wanted to make sure I got to tell the portion of his story that’s my responsibility. I wanted to tell that story with integrity, with decency, and to really be an advocate for his experience. I had to take a deep dive and to find out what I was connected to about this but to also find out things about Bobby Seale that I wanted to defend. This was really about defending another person’s honor in a way that my other projects hadn’t asked me to do.”
Abdul-Mateen said the film was originally set for this election year, but no one could have predicted the amount of social unrest 2020 would bring in the form of activism against police brutality around the world.
“The movie landed in a climate where we’re talking about brutality at the hands of our government, by the hands of police not just in America but across the world. This film says…‘The whole world is watching,’ and it couldn’t be more true,” he said, referencing the movements in the spring surrounding the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd as well as the recent End SARS movement in Nigeria. “Those who are appointed to keep the peace [but are] overstepping their boundaries and abusing their powers–it’s a theme that’s been consistent for a very long time, but for some reason it got really loud this year. If you look at the people in our film, they are young people who are upset and who do not take no for an answer and at all costs to change the state of their lives, to change the state of the lives like them and the people they love.”
Watch the full interview below The Trial of the Chicago 7 is now streaming on Netflix.